The bitter medicine of history: Seneca the elder on the genre of declamation

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This chapter investigates how Seneca the Elder negotiates the generic position of declamation in his Controversiae and Suasoriae. It argues that his practice shows a perception of close generic affinity between declamation and poetry, and focuses on his attempt to force his readers into a closer engagement with historiography. In the course of critiquing declamations, Seneca not infrequently offers as extra-declamatory comparanda examples from poetry, and especially from epic. He appears to take for granted his audience’s acceptance of the models of poetic description and poetic pathos. History, by contrast, does not appear as a parallel genre in the Controversiae and is cited only in the divisio of the sixth suasoria, on whether Cicero should ask Antony to spare him. Seneca expects his audience to be distressed by the introduction of historiographical texts, but insists on an extensive engagement with historical treatments as non alienum to the subject. This juxtaposition of attitudes suggests awareness on the part of Seneca’s audience of a generic identity centred on fictionality (a crucial distinction from traditional oratory). By centring his discussion on this exemplum, moreover, Seneca uses the most temporally proximate subject, Cicero’s death, to make the strongest possible argument for the potential benefit of history to the future development of the declamatory genre.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Title of host publicationReading Roman Declamation
Subtitle of host publicationSeneca the Elder
PublisherOxford University Press
Number of pages22
ISBN (Electronic)9780198746010
StatePublished - Jan 1 2020

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • General Arts and Humanities


  • Cicero
  • Fictionality
  • Historiography
  • Latin epic
  • Latin poetry
  • Roman declamation
  • Roman rhetoric


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